04/06/2011 4:00PM

Hall of Fame not the focus of Hollendorfer's attention


Jerry Hollendorfer does not need to win the million-dollar Santa Anita Derby on Saturday with longshot Indian Winter to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt.

At this point, Hollendorfer’s credentials are pretty well established. After 32 years as a public trainer he has won 5,913 races, for purses that total $120,476,389. That was as of Wednesday morning. Add “and counting” to both numbers, since he is still very much in the thick of things with vigorous divisions in Northern and Southern California and a road game to die for.

Hollendorfer turns 65 on June 18, an age at which the square johns in the wide world outside horse racing traditionally give serious consideration to retirement. That’s a laugh. If the 2010 season was any indication, Hollendorfer, is just warming up.

Last year marked a personal best for Hollendorfer in purse earnings ($9.1 million, fourth in the nation), his first Eclipse Award champion (the 3-year-old filly Blind Luck), and his first victory in a Breeders’ Cup event (the Dirt Mile, with Dakota Phone).

It is only fitting, then, that Hollendorfer is one of 10 candidates on the 2011 ballot for racing Hall of Fame. To be elected, he must finish in the top four when the votes from the 183 ballots are tallied. Among the other candidates are fellow trainers Gary Jones and Robert Wheeler, as well as jockeys Alex Solis, John Velazquez, Calvin Borel, and Garrett Gomez.

Still, the idea of joining Ben Jones, Charlie Whittingham, and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons on the walls of the Hall in Saratoga Springs is a little preposterous to Hollendorfer.

“I was just one of these guys who got into the game and loved it from the start,” he said Wednesday morning between sets. “If I hadn’t become a trainer and an owner of horses I probably would have done something else just to be around it.”

The closest Hollendorfer has ever gotten to the Hall of Fame was last summer when he was in town to win the Alabama Stakes with Blind Luck.

“When you go to Saratoga trying to win a race you have to put all your attention on that, so it never really occurred to me to visit the Hall of Fame while I was there,” Hollendorfer said.

Spoken like a man who doesn’t bother much with the concept of “holiday.”

“I know a lot of trainers who seem to be out here every day,” Hollendorfer said. “I don’t think there’s too many of us out there vacationing.”

Hollendorfer will need to turn in a piece of Hall of Fame training if Indian Winter is going to upset a field that includes Premier Pegasus, Jaycito, Silver Medallion and Comma to the Top, all winners of significant races for the division. However, none of them has risen to any level of dominance – they’ve each done one good thing – which leaves things wide open for a new shooter to step up and take center stage among the West’s top 3-year-olds.

Indian Winter is a son of Indian Charlie out of a daughter of Dixieland Band. Indian Charlie already has Uncle Mo at the top of the pre-Derby heap, while Dixieland Band’s daughters have produced Derby winners Monarchos and Street Sense, not to mention the Melbourne Cup winner Delta Blues.

All that is fine, but Indian Winter must show Hollendorfer more on the racetrack before he can start waving his pedigree around. The colt popped first time out last summer at Del Mar and then was a distant third in the Del Mar Futurity. A few “nagging problems” sent him to the bench, according to his trainer, but Indian Winter came back as a 3-year-old hitting on all cylinders in January to win the San Pedro Stakes at 61/2 furlongs on the Santa Anita dirt.

After that, Hollendorfer sent him two turns for the first time in the Turf Paradise Derby, but the trip to Arizona was a bust. Odds-on, Indian Winter was a well-beaten third, although an interference call moved him up to second.

“I’m not one to try and make excuses,” Hollendorfer said. “I still think he’ll get two turns, and he did run real well at Santa Anita earlier this year. He doesn’t need to be on the lead, either, so I think he’ll get a chance to close some ground unlike his race before.”

Hollendorfer has been down the Kentucky Derby trail before, but without much luck. The Seattle Slew colt Event of the Year, unbeaten at the time, was his best chance back in 1998, but he went wrong the week of the race and that was that.

It is the day before the Derby that has put Hollendorfer’s name in the national consciousness with three victories in the Kentucky Oaks. The only trainers to win the race more often have been named either Woody or Wayne. Those Oaks winners – Lite Light, Pike Place Dancer, and last year with Blind Luck – have combined with the recent exploits of Heatseeker, Hystericalady, and Tuscan Evening to give their trainer a shot at that plaque in Saratoga Springs.

“When I got onto the backside I decided it was just where I wanted to be,” Hollendorfer said. “To be nominated to the Hall of Fame is quite unbelievable. I certainly never expected it.”